We recently hosted a birthday dinner for good friends and brought out some of the pottery collection for a Summer menu inspired by local, seasonal ingredients (many from the birthday boy's own garden) and Japanese kaiseki-style courses. I say "kaiseki-style" in that my food doesn't really compare to true Kyoto Kaiseki Cuisine. It just wants to be that when it grows up. It's the end of the summer in the Pacific Northwest, and we're been enjoying the remaining days of long daylight, warm sun on the tomatoes, the last of the berries, and the first corn harvests. It's a great time to select from a wide variety of ingredients.
Not quite an appetizer, the kumidashi course is just a welcoming opener. Often a fragrant beverage, or as simple as warm water to take the chill off during the winter months; I chose this time to serve a chilled watermelon and shiso soup. The vessels are vintage era Japanese porcelain demitasse cups. They show images of the flowers of different seasons such as iris (late spring, early summer,) wisteria (summer,) chrysanthemum (fall,) and winter peonies. These delicate cups are probably Kutani-yaki from the early-mid 1900's.
Also served was mizudashi karigane-cha, cold-infused karigane (stems of Gyokuro) tea. This is one of our popular Charaku teas throughout the year, but especially now as it infuses well both hot & cold. Served in stemware, along with the porcelain demitasse, it is a elegant diversion to the mostly stoneware dishes to follow in the rest of the meal.
The mukozuke dish here is replaced by another unexpected piece of glassware, a vintage cut-crystal martini glass with a bamboo motif.
It contains a small salad of NW spot shrimp with avocado, dressed simply in light soy sauce, lime juice, and freshly grated lime zest.
The glass gets replaced later by an actual mukozuke dish with which to eat the rest of the meal.
Yakimono (Grilled Dish) Course:
On a vintage Mashiko-yaki plate with a Mt. Fuji motif, painted by Minakwa Hiro, was served a simple Beef Tataki dish with homemade ponzu dipping sauce. The plate is not necessarily seasonal, but it was a nod to the recent announcement of "Fuji-san" being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The beef was "Kobe Beef" from Snake River Farms in Idaho. I say Kobe in quotations because although it is marketed as Kobe Beef, it is technically American Wagyu and not really from Kobe, or Hyogo Prefecture, from where true Kobe Beef hails. Still, it's some of the best beef we've had in America, and we're lucky that our local market carries it a few times a year and that this week was one of those times. Simply seared on the outside, and left rare in the center, it was then marinated in a mixture of sake and soy sauce for about an hour. It served with a citrus-soy dipping sauce with condiments such as green onions, grated daikon radish, and chili. The vessels here are a half round of green bamboo, and some simple local pots, the pitcher on a karakusa (Chinese grass)- motif saucer.
Sake is introduced with this course, and this meal's offering was "Tochigi Oni." As we used to live in Mashiko, which is located in Tochigi Prefecture; I thought it appropriate. It is also very smooth, and drinks well at room temperature. The guinomi in the foreground is a slip-trailed Onta-yaki piece. Those pictured in the group are (L-R): a warade (wheat straw) motif cup by local potter, Mika Sullivan; the Onta-yaki cup, a tall-handled bajyohai (cup for drinking sake on horseback!) of Shodai-yaki in Kumamoto, a red-glazed & slip decorated piece by an apprentice of Kawai Kanjiro, and a zogan-inlay guinomi by the late National Living Treasure, Shimaoka Tatsuzo.
This course left at the table was a another summer salad. This one was made with golden cherry tomatoes from our and our guests' garden, dressed in a mixture of freshly grated cucumber (also from our friends's garden) and daikon radish, plus lemon juice & salt.
It's very simple, but really exudes the flavor of the season maybe more that any other dish. It tastes and smells like harvesting tomatoes from your own back yard.
The bowl is a piece from the 1980's by Seattle potter, Liza Richardson. In Japan, it would be considered a donburi, but also works very well with salads and fruit. The floral pattern around the interior rim was perfect for this dish. Liza is someone with whom I used to work, but have lost track of over the years. We got many fine pots from her, and they are still used regularly in our home after all of these years. I hope to find her again!
The hassun course typically has two small items, one from the land and one from the sea, with which to enjoy a last cup of sake with the host.
The item from the sea is often something as simple as a few slices of smoked fish. In this case, I broke the rule and substituted something with a similar taste and mouthfeel, Prosciutto di Parma. We have a good source for Italian & American prosciutto, as well as Serrano Ham from Spain, just north of us at Old World Deli in Bellingham. I paired these with home-made Strawberry Conserves, with local favorite Sakuma Brothers Farm late-season Albions, topped with a drizzle of Balsamic Vinegar.The plate is an irregular-shaped dessert plate by an Orgeon potter, and decorated with summer dragonflies.
The takuan pickles usually served with rice are substituted with kombu-pickled Beets, also from Small's Farm. I pickled these with kombu and rice vinegar for just a day to keep the fresh beet flavor and crispness. The dish is a small Onta-yaki plate with a combed design running through the glaze. I picked up these little dishes on a visit to Sarayama back in 2001, and they have been handy favorites for all kinds of side dishes since then.
WaSabiDou site. The other is an aohagi (blue Hagi) nodate chawan. Nodate tea bowls are small and can be used for outdoor use, such as on a summer picnic.
This was served with Lavender Ice Cream, home made by our guests, which was churning away on the front porch during dinner.
Washington State has a number of lavender farms, including a few on nearby Whidbey Island and on San Juan Island. Across the Salish Sea (Puget Sound) in the town of Sequim, one of the largest lavender festivals in the country takes place at nearly a dozen farms. This ice cream left a final taste & memory of a NW summer in all of our mouths. The dish is a porcelain mukozuke dish by Karatsu & Maine potter, Hanako Nakazato, whose work carry at WaSabiDou.
The last beverage was non-caffeinated and served in simple Mashiko cups. This was Natamame-cha (Sword Bean Tea) sent from Japan by a friend whose relatives are bean farmers and produce this bean, along with Kuromame (Black Beans.) They are in the Tamba region of Hyogo Prefecture, well-know for both of these beans. Currently, natamame-cha is enjoying wide popularity in Japan as a health drink. It was a calming way to end a meal with good friends. I couldn't think of a better way to enjoy the end of another season.